by Capt Mike Frenette
For the most part hunting seasons are either over or winding down but does that mean that your weekends should be spent on the couch? Absolutely not, perfect time of the year to run your boat, play with your tackle, try different lures, and oh yeah by the way stretch your line on some tackle busting 30-40 pound (or larger), world class Redfish.
Years ago, Bull Reds were frowned upon as “trash fish” as they were and are still not the “ones” you want to keep to eat. Times are changing. There are many Louisiana Sportsman and women who do not judge the success of their trip by how many fish they bring back. Remember “back in the day” (how many times have you heard that saying?” when a trip was judged by how many ice chests were filled. This decided whether or not a fishing trip was successful.
With the tremendous loss of our largest resource that Louisiana has to offer, our wetlands, which as a result from hurricanes that have ravaged our coastline, sinking of land from miles and miles of canals dug by petroleum companies and estuaries that were heavily impacted “in a negative” sense by the largest man made disaster known to Louisiana in history, the BP oil spill, have all created question marks to what lay’s ahead to our fishery.
That being said, Louisiana anglers are extremely lucky as when it comes to catching saltwater species such as Redfish anglers can and do expect to catch Redfish twelve months of the year. Most other states do not come even close to the quality of Red fishing that affords anglers whom visit or reside in Louisiana, as a matter of fact Redfish especially the “Giants” are considered seasonal. In late winter there is one area of Louisiana that is considered “the” spot for large Bull Reds that being the Mississippi Delta, especially the Delta region from Empire south to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
February and the next couple months are considered a ‘stay home” month cause we usually relate this time period as windy, cold and even rainy days. Oh yeah that can be the truth but squeezed in between the “uglies” one can experience first class conditions and if your lucky you might experience an awesome weather day presenting great opportunities for Reds, especially the giants.
Where to Go
Unlimited, that’s about the best description that I can give, as there are many options as far as picking a spot or an area to fish. Take a look at any chart, map, Google earth, really doesn’t matter as you will see what I’m talking about. The delta region especially the areas in Plaquemines Parish from Empire south to the mouth of the river and this encompasses both sides of the river. From one side of the Delta to the other you will find numerous cuts, passes, ditches, areas that spin off the river and head to bays or “edges” of the gulf. Where these “cuts” enter the bays or edges of the gulf the water is always moving and as a rule, the higher the river, the more current you will find in the area of these “cuts”. Normally at this time of the year the river should be in the early stages of rising, so be looking for good currents in any of the cuts.
Because of the water movement at this time of the year these areas carry quite a bit of very small baitfish that the larger baitfish feed on and yes you guessed it, Redfish as well are searching out these bait fish. As the ole saying goes “Find the bait fish” and you will find the predators and as far as I’ m concerned Bull Reds are the predators of the delta.
Working the shorelines left and right of these cuts in waters 6’ or shallower is what you will target. Usually the closer you are to the cut, the deeper the waters will be and as you move away from the cut the shallower it becomes.
What to Use
Certainly you can pick a spot and cast some dead shrimp or cut mullet next to the shore line and yes you will probably catch a couple of giants, but personally that’s not my style.
Preferring artificial baits for many reasons but the most important is that you can cover so much more area than you ever will when fishing with natural bait. This is the time of the year that you will find the giant Reds working very slow along the bottom in search for crabs, mullet, pogy, or for that matter they are not picky during the colder months. You can almost bet they will eat anything in its way, especially if it’s moving slowly. Showing how close to the bottom they are working, don’t be surprised when you catch your beast that on its stomach you will find traces of mud
Couple of baits that I really like to use during the winter: Soft plastics and crank baits are my “go to” baits and you can bet my Plano Stow Away Utility Boxes will be stuffed with them. Reason why, in shallow water both can be worked slowly.
As stated earlier, you are most likely to be fishing in 6’ of water or less and using crank baits that are designed for deep water such as Strike King’s 6 XD’s and 10 XD’s are deadly.
For the soft plastics consider Strike Kings Glass Minnow connected to a 3/8 oz. jig head. Certainly these are not the only baits that will work but over the years during this time of the year they have proven to create success.
First of all working the shore line left or right from the cuts with your trolling motor really gives the angler an advantage as during this time of the year the giant reds or even the smaller ones for that matter are not schooled up in huge schools as you might find in the early fall but finding small packs roaming the bank is quite normal. Using a trolling motor at very slow speeds allows a stealthy stalk along the shoreline. Usually working the first 100 yards in either direction are considered the “target zones”. When working left or right from the cuts position your boat so that you are going with the wind as this will make it easier for presentation of your baits.
Pay extreme attention at this time of the year. It might be just the slightest hint that action is close by. A small swirl, a tiny flip from a bait fish, or if your lucky a “push” from the potential target, will alert you to the possible presence of the giants. At this time of the year heavy activity of baitfish is not likely so be alert. When you see the first sign of any activity, power pole down and work every inch along the bank. Even if you do not see signs of baitfish, deploy your power pole about every 100 feet so that you can work the area nice and slow.
It would not surprise me if by now your wondering why the suggestion to use deep diving crank baits in water 6’ or less. As stated previously this is usually the time of the year when the river waters are usually on the rise and usually the water temperature is cooler. Not unusual to have surface temperatures in the low 50’s or even cooler and as also stated earlier the giant Reds are moving much slower than they would during the warmer months there for being able to work your baits slowly again is priority.
Working deep diving crank baits slowly in shallow water is very effective as the crank bait churns up the bottom, leaving a “mud trail”. It truly is amazing how slow you can work these baits, wobbling and chugging the bottom at the same time. All this commotion sends off tremendous vibrations that the Reds pick up on their lateral lines.
Now when it comes to the soft plastics and jig head, again SLOW is the key here. Working the shoreline, cast close to the shore and let the bait fall to the bottom, slowly drag the bait on the bottom for about three feet, tighten up with your reel then raise your rod tip up just slightly so that the bait comes off the bottom just for a second. Drop your rod tip and continue this process all the way back to the boat. As well, intermittently stop as you are retrieving along the bottom creating what’s called a “wounded technique”. This bait stirs the bottom as well but in a moderate sense compared to crank baits. That is why the original H&H Cocahoe minnow and the Rage shrimp work well as both have great action when barely moving creating strikes during cool and cold weather conditions. Remember it’s all about slow.
Rods such as medium to medium/heavy action seem to be popular when anglers are pursuing the giants. Sense we are targeting larger Reds you might need a little extra muscle on the strike. A little stiffer rod may help you in turning the beast, keeping the Red from heading into or rubbing along the canes. If you feel comfortable using light action rods, have at it cause as far as I’m concerned when it comes to fishing, the lighter the equipment the more fun to be had. 7’ in length for the rod is perfect for a couple of reasons: allow you to make long casts and still maintain accuracy.
As far as the reels, that really is a matter of preference. Spinning or bait casters have and always will be debatable. Does it matter? No. I’m a bait caster type of guy but the guy next to me might prefer spin casting. When your casting down the bank, basically in open water, both styles work.
Over the years using braided style lines have become extremely popular and when chasing the giants it becomes quite apparent that braided line either 20 or 30 pound test will truly give an angler “the edge”. During the colder months “the bite” might be very subtle and braided line is so sensitive that you will feel the slightest nudge on your bait.
Usually when casting soft plastics attaching about an 18”-24” of 20 pound-45 pound test fluorocarbon line to the braid taking the “stiffness” out of the braid, making the bait (soft plastic) look more realistic. When it comes to the crank baits, keep it simple, tie directly to the braid. If you haven’t tried Vicious Braid or Vicious Fluorocarbon give it a try, might soon become your favorite.
No reason to head out on cold days at the crack of dawn. During the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest usually is when the bite is on especially if the tide is in coming
As the tide comes in giant Reds will begin working the shoreline as they usually stage from the deeper waters to the shallow waters with in coming tides.
If at all possible, look for muddy bottoms vs. sandy bottoms as mud bottoms gather and retain heat from the sun better than sandy bottoms.
Always check for abrasions after each battle, as it is very easy for the line to become nicked due to the bony make up and sharp gill plates of the Redfish.
Having a good strong net such as Frabill is an important factor. Don’t chase the fish with your net. Simply wait for the right time to net your fish. Allow the giant Red to get close to the boat, position yourself and the net so that the Red is approaching with its head first. Get the head of the Red in the net first. Turn the handle of the net perpendicular to the water and then lift the Red in the boat. Its Ok if the tail is hanging out of the net, he’s not going anywhere.
Making sure you have pliers and proper hook removal tools are essential as the mouth of these big Reds are extremely bony. Having proper tools will prevent damage to the Red when the hook is being removed.
Take a couple of pictures then lets release it, as these giants are not only old but are our breeding stock. Studies have shown that Redfish usually do not reproduce until the 7th year and that a 35-40 pound giant can be 20-25 years of age, if not older.
Don’t just toss the Red back in. Most of the time these giants have exerted themselves during the fight and a little thanks and assistance might be required. Cradle the Red, lower into the water then hold the fish by its tail. Some times they will swim right off but others might take a few minutes to rest. When they are ready, they will simply swim out of your hand.
It’s a great feeling to battle these giants on light tackle then watch them swim away to fight another day.
Having a successful trip isn’t always about “limiting out”
Capt. Mike Frenette
Redfish Lodge of Louisiana